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Bennett injury costly for Dayton in loss to Loyola

Mar. 2—CHICAGO — Sister Jean started the night by referring to the University of Dayton as Dayton University. Even UD fans who take great offense to that common slight — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made the same mistake in the 2020 draft — will forgive the famed Loyola Chicago fan, whose full name is Jean Dolores Schmidt. She is, after all, 104 years old.

Sister Jean read a statement on the court before Loyola played the No. 21 Dayton Flyers on Friday night at Gentile Arena in front of a sold-out crowd of 4,557 fans. She told the fans she hoped for an injury-free game and a Loyola victory. As it turned out, a 77-72 Loyola victory came about in part because it wasn't an injury-free game for Dayton.

Dayton led throughout the first half and had a 35-32 advantage at halftime with Javon Bennett running the point guard spot, as he has all season. With Bennett sidelined the entire second half with a left thumb injury, Dayton suffered another close loss on the road.

There's no guarantee Dayton (22-6, 12-4) would have beaten Loyola (21-8, 13-3) with Bennett. They had him on the court in similar losses at Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason. But they missed him as the turnovers mounted in the second half.

"He's a pest," Dayton forward DaRon Holmes II said of Bennett. "He's the head of the snake. But we have to have that next-man-up mentality."

It was too early to tell after the game how severe Bennett's injury was. Trainer Mike Mulcahey first encased Bennett's hand in ice and then put it in a splint.

"What I was told was he got his hand caught in a jersey, and he just wasn't available," Grant said. "So we'll evaluate him and see where he's at."

"I think he's going to be fine," guard Koby Brea said. "We've just got to stay positive."

Asked what Dayton would do if Bennett is sidelined for any length of time, Grant said, "Unfortunately, we have familiarity with injuries and whatnot, so we'll adjust. We'll see where we're at, but I can't tell you right now if he's in or if he's out. I don't know. We'll evaluate that once we get there."

Bennett averages 29.4 minutes per game. He leads the team with 3.6 assists per game. In Atlantic 10 Conference play, he has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league (4.1).

Without Bennett, Kobe Elvis played point guard. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.6. He had five assists and seven turnovers against Loyola.

Elvis wasn't the only Flyer to struggle with turnovers. Holmes had six. The team had a season-high 22, six more than its previous season high and more than twice their season average (10.1).

"They were disruptive," Dayton coach Anthony Grant said. "Some of them, we had the right idea, we just weren't able to finish the plays."

Dayton committed seven turnovers in one five-minute stretch in the second half. Its most costly turnover, arguably, came with 3:23 to play. Loyola led 66-65. Dayton got the ball to Holmes near the free-throw line. He dribbled left and then spun the other way. At that point, Loyola's Philip Alston stripped the ball away from Holmes.

"They did a good job on defense," Holmes said. "I feel like we could have done a better job with the turnovers, especially myself. I've got to be able to read the double teams better. There were a couple times where I was spinning, and I didn't see them coming and they would slap at the ball."

After the steal, Alston made a 3-pointer to give Loyola a 69-65 lead. Brea answered with a 3-pointer, his second of the game. The nation's 3-point percentage leader got only five attempts after leading Dayton with 17 points and making 5 of 9 3-pointers in an 80-66 victory against Davidson on Tuesday.

"They were pretty on top of me," Brea said. "They did a good job; I'm not going to lie."

Holmes led Dayton with 20 points and nine rebounds. He made 6 of 11 field goals and 7 of 10 free throws.

Desmond Watson scored 24 points for Loyola on 9-of-13 shooting. Braden Norris added 19 points and made 4 of 7 3-pointers. He made two in the final three minutes, including one with 19 seconds to play that clinched the victory for the Ramblers.

"Just a gritty win," Loyola coach Drew Valentine said. "We came into the game and talked about toughness and focus. We knew it was going to be a high-level atmosphere and environment. We needed to make sure we were the tougher team physically and tougher team mentally. The focus remained on winning the game and getting it done. For us to respond as physical as we won this game was very impressive."

A road loss to a top-100 team won't knock Dayton out of the NCAA tournament picture. It dropped only one spot in the NCAA Evaluation Tool to No. 21. In the four seasons the NET has been used for the NCAA tournament selection process, everyone in the top 30 has made the field. Last year, the highest-ranked team in the NET to not earn an at-large berth was No. 38 North Texas.

What the loss did was likely end Dayton's Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship hopes.

Unless Richmond (21-7, 13-2) loses two of its last three games, Loyola loses once and Dayton beats Saint Louis (10-13, 3-12) and Virginia Commonwealth (19-9, 11-4) in the final week of the regular season, the Flyers will finish in the top four for the third straight year but not in the top spot.

Dayton has now lost all four road games it has played to teams in the top seven of the standings. The total margin of defeat in those four losses was 16 points.

"Guys battled," Grant said. "It was a really hotly-contested game. Give them credit. They made some plays. Defensively, we knew they would be disruptive. They've got really good players. They're a very well-coached team. It was a great environment today. Unfortunately, we weren't able to come out with the win."

TUESDAY'S GAME

Dayton at Saint Louis, 9 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 95.7, 1290